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Dilla Donuts Month: "Don’t Cry"

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Between the strange, snare-heavy frenzy of “The Twister,” the somber elegance of “One Eleven,” the boastful banger “Two Can Win” and the leisurely warmth of “Don’t Cry,” the middle of Donuts is tremendously diverse (and, more importantly, great); it’s straight-up bizarre, poignant, breezily funky and soothing all at once. Among the four songs mentioned, “Don’t Cry” is my favorite, with a slow, sparkling beat and lush Escorts sample. By all accounts, Dilla seems to have been a happy person—just look at Donuts’ cover, where, presumably content, he offers a slight smile, Tigers cap hanging over his eyes—and this is his reminder to be one yourself, even on a frigid February day when the snow-shoveling never ends and you’re mourning the loss of one of your favorite rap producers. At any rate, “Don’t Cry” is every bit as wonderful as “U-Love” (the horn-laden slow jam that appears later) and all of the other Dilla-produced odes to gladness and affection.

-Matt R.

Matt writes about hip-hop on This marks his debut as a blog contributor.


“Don’t Cry” is the inverse of most beats and the majority of Donuts because for long stretches of the song, it’s just a vaguely fucked-with, mostly unadulterated soul-loop and then, for shorter, more chorus-like patches, it folds into itself and becomes a breakdown of vocal clips and grunts and quarter-second samples. Most beats are the opposite, with all the manipulation going on in the longer, “verse” sections and the chorus/hook being the point where the LP slicing and dicing lets-up into a cathartic, untouched loop.

But, most of Donuts doesn’t do that either, the majority of the songs dive deep into obsessive sample tweaking and never come up for the air of a unvarnished soul loop, just whirling around, forever delayed and incomplete as pieces of a vocal or a snare pop-in, then vanish. Only on the most explicitly emotional tracks from early in the album (“Stop!”, “People”, “The Diff’rence”) does Dilla follow a typical beat formula.

But starting with “Don’t Cry” the heavy tracks reject typical beat formula for this inverse-beat pattern, where the really explicit emotion of the song’s repeated a bunch and it only briefly gets all choppy and staggered.

There’s even a sense that the closer to the end–or er, beginning–of the album you get, the less touched the soul samples become, moving closer and closer to just flat-out loops with minimal interjection. The tracks get more emotionally direct as they get more musically direct. Makes sense. Even then though, Dilla mixes it up a few times, tossing in “Geek Down” or “Da Factory”, which work on a pacing level and also downplay the emotional overt-ness of the surrounding tracks and keep the overall album down-to-earth.

The same way rap albums have a few overtly serious tracks but for the most part, mix the visceral with the intellectual within a song or even verse, or end with that stand-out tone changing “sorry I sold crack”-type song or super-didactic political song to flip the rest of the album, Donuts is weird-fun that finds its way back to the super-serious eventually. A dealer isn’t burdened with regret most of the time, a rapper’s not getting all Op-Ed piece in the Times 24-7, and Dilla’s not contemplating his mortality all day every day.

And then you get “Don’t Cry”, a clear reference to Dilla’s illness. He’s telling friends, family, fans not to cry, probably in part because he doesn’t feel like there’s anything to cry about–the album’s proof of his comfort with death–and also just because, as The Escorts sample emotes, it really sucks to see someone cry, especially when they’re crying for you.

Written by Brandon

February 18th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts

The House Next Door: "Music Video Round-Up" Young Jeezy’s "My President" & Relics of Cynicism

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I talk about the Young Jeezy videos “My President” and “Crazy World”, as well as Killer Mike’s “Pressure” video. I’d also like to note that very quietly–a surprise in the hype-everything world of rap–that “My President” director Gabriel Hart has tacked-on a terrible, terrible intro to the video. He’s also re-edited it, and so we get less Bun B about to cry with excitement and just a general fucking-with the rhythm. I wrote my review when the original only existed and rather than re-write or qualify it, I tossed-in a few lines about the re-edit and kept my initial reading:

“In light of Obama’s election and it’s positive implications for our country (made more than ideal by big moments like the impending closure of Guantanamo Bay and minor ones like not totally clowning McDonald’s worker “Julio”), politically-engaged protest art has the odd effect of feeling passe and cynical. Fully aware dissent don’t end when something good happens, the premiere of Young Jeezy’s “Crazy World” video a week or so after Obama won the presidency, felt decadent and irrelevant, a relic of knowing cynicism that we could now look beyond, right? Right? RIGHT?”

Written by Brandon

February 18th, 2009 at 8:30 am

Dilla Donuts Month: "Two Can Win"


Everbody–including me–thought this was the Jackson Five. That especially upfront, killer voice sounds like the soulful squeaks of a young M.J, but really it’s Dilla doing all kinds of crazy shit to another family soul group: The Sylvers.

More “alternate history” type stuff, focusing on another group of soul-shouting blood relatives, reminding you soul music goes deeper than Billboard Charts and lazy 70s-Soul compilations. The same way Dilla mixes Motown, Detroit’s music, with the less-known Detroit Emeralds and at times, hints towards Detroit Techno. How “Light My Fire” is based on some strange psych-soul cover of The Doors’ classic or that later track, “Walkinonit”, has roots in an Undisputed Truth cover of “Walk On By”. Dilla uncovers a missing Jackson Five classic by riffing on another group entirely.

The original “Only One Can Win” is slower, on a half-reggae vibe and it sounds like Dilla went into “Two Can Win” with a copy of The Sylvers’ “Only One Can Win” in-hand, thinking “What can I do to this to make it sound just like the Jackson 5?”, then cut the record into a bunch of pieces, started screwing around with speed and pitch-shifting, and really deed it.

As usual, the by-product of the vocal manipulation reaps subtler rewards. The way the drum-circle groove percussion of the original turns into a punk funk cowbell or one-of-those-fish-things-you-rub-a-stick-across freakout–Like the breakdown in the Bar Kays’ “Holy Ghost”. The way the word-less coos slice through the track rising and falling like a shout from the center of a maelstrom. The hyper-immaculate strings that triumph in the background and also tangle up inside of one another and then, politely fall back. Bubbling bass gets bubblier. Patient drums turn confident.

Upping the energy of the original song and correctively re-naming it, rejects the bittersweet, hard facts of life typical of soul music–”only one can win your love”–for something more hopeful: Two can win. The song’s title, in direct contrast with what’s said in the song, seems like some optimistic, uphill battle to negate cold, ugly reality. Two plus two does not equal four Sisyphean-type idealism in the not-gonna-happen which becomes affecting in its hard-headed ignoring of the impossible because it’s the kind of leap of faith, just-keep-going mentality you need when you’re dying or even just down and out and hopeless.


Two can win? It makes me wonder, who is the second person? Regardless, I choose Dilla and Dilla. Like a redundant Dylan. “Two Can Win” sounds to me like the perfect track to accompany a video clip of Dilla’s face pasted on Usain Bolt’s body during his Olympic coming out party. I could see Dilla right now, so far ahead of his competition that he’s looking back with a grin as wide as the records he tore apart with his MPC. Hey Timbaland, DJ Premier, oh, I almost didn’t see you Kanye.

All of this going on as The Sylvers sing that “only one can win your love and you must choose me”. To me, the placement of the track is perfect, a little past the half way point, here is song that demands that you question who you love. And the first time I heard Donuts, question I did. I questioned who my favorite hip hop producer of all time was. Out went DJ Premier, in went Dilla. And I can’t say I made the wrong choice.


Written by Brandon

February 18th, 2009 at 4:27 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "One Eleven"

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The producer-trick show-off shit of Donuts ends with “One Eleven”. Again, the whole album’s beatmaker braggadocio (and G-d bless it for being so), but from the platonic loops of “Glazed” and “Twister”, to the obsessive sample slicing of both “_____works” songs, to the finding a new way to flip a too-often flipped break on “Stepson of the Clapper”, songs feel heavy on skills and disinterested in overt emotion. And so, it’s appropriate that this suite within a suite closes by returning to soul-beat warmth and subtly pronounces Dilla’s own greatness.

The sample here is Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “A Legend In Its Own Time” and the chorus in particular, is just dying to be used as a bad-ass hook about how fly a rapper is, but instead Dilla gels together the pieces of swooping strings between the singing. Like, “Stepson of the Claper”, “One Eleven” is an exercise in side-stepping the obvious. He’s saying he’s a legend in his own time without coming out and saying it, you see?

And it’s not like Dilla’s subtle. So many songs in title alone talk-up sickness, death, and parting this planet but when it comes to talking his shit again, Dilla’s pretty quiet or like “show don’t tell” about it. Donuts could use Smokey and company’s gorgeous hook and you’d smile a bit at the arrogance, and nod your head in agreement if a track looping the phrase “a legend in its own time” moved through your speakers. Nah. The only time you get to nod in agreement or truly contextualize sampled vocals here is when they’re reminding you of and helping Dilla through death: “Stop!”, “Don’t Cry”, “Bye” etc.

Written by Brandon

February 16th, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "The Twister (Huh, What?)"


Once “Twister” gets going, after twenty seconds or so of mysterious sample collage-ing, it’s a weird falling-apart loop of classic break-beat drumming and some odd whistle-squeak melody that you want to play out for twenty minutes instead of just the next minute or so Dilla gives you. Not quite a funk groove, there’s something ramshackle but also robotic about it, closer to Krautrock motorik minus that sub-genre’s attempt to remove the messy human element.

“Twister” crushes you, amps up the energy and sounds new again, maybe like the first few times you heard break-beats in music outside of hip-hop, say “Funky Drummer” or the “Amen” break in a Jungle or Rave song or even some vaguely contemplative “electronica”. The simple ugly loop of “Twister” is similarly revelatory for moving beyond genre expectations or maybe, occupying many genres at once. With the right ears and lack of context, Four Tet or Boards of Canada sound like beats in need of a rapper and Dilla becomes the slept-on genius of American trip-hop.


The first time I heard Donuts, I thought there was something wrong with the CD. (I had the same experience the first time I dropped the needle on The Swans and the “Bring the Noise” 12″, playing with the 33/45/72 RPM switch.) My next reaction was, ‘What the fuck? Somebody shoved Pete Rock into a blender?’

There’s a restlessness in Dilla and Madlib’s work: the incredibly short tracks, too hyper to build them up; the clever playfulness; the boiling over of ideas and samples. It’s like how Pynchon or Zadie Smith write, always too distracted by their fizzing brains to stay fixed on the story.

To me that’s the drawback of Donuts: while there’s no doubt moments of joy and transcendence, there’s so much discordance and lack of structure, lack of building coherence and growing a track into a song, that ultimately the segues between one sample and another become choppy. For me, a successful track builds and grows and the best loops are the ones where you could stick it on repeat and not get sick of it.

“The Twister” is one of those loops. Dilla begins with a classic James Brown sample, then kicks in another of his sounds like someone’s spinning the radio dial mixes, before settling into a crazy funky loop and the classic ‘Huh? What?’ sample (which right now I can’t remember what it is…Busy B?). And a telephone ringing for some reason. For no reason whatsoever. There’s that playfulness, that never-leave-a-good-beat-alone thing, again.

But the drums kick—he’s playing with “The Funky Drummer” again. The sample is a trunk of funk. The background sample gives it that party-over-here effect, the sense of the song floating over the city, backyard to yard. (“Thunder” is the other monster jam on this LP for me.)

It’s interesting to me how much Dilla has become one of hip-hop’s venerated martyrs. He’s the only cat I’ve ever seen whose digital bootlegging is frowned upon (aside from Stone Throw’s efforts), even before the argument about his moms and kids came up. (I mean, ODB left behind, what, 22 children or something?) But it’s his lack of self-mythologizing, braggadocio and overall grill…this was the quiet dude who was too shy to go to the Grammys. (Didn’t he wait outside in the car with his moms or something?) Yeah, we all knew kids like Dilla. But we don’t usually heroize them.

I think Madlib is locked into his format, and is gonna pretty much do the same thing from here on in. With Dilla, I think he would have progressed into a really interesting artist. Flying Lotus is just Dilla with glitches; by 2015 I think Dilla woulda been creating some late-period Coltrane, next-level type of shit.


Ellmatic’s blog is here full of dope remixes and mixes and stuff.


Beat-making is collage, so it’s inherently messy and rough, but producers are judged on their ability to make that messy-rough aspect of it close to seamless; It’s a kind of hard-headed obsessive task that’s weird if you step from outside of it for a moment. Dilla’s career though, is a trajectory towards comfort and celebration with the rough, ugly, and off-kilter.

His earliest work while still fascinating, is indeed brilliantly tight and together but as he moved into the 2000s–and got knowingly closer to death–he didn’t give much of a shit. What he screams out on the “Intro” of Ruff Draft was his mission statement and his work began to flake-out and sound off-the-rails. Not the dependable thump of Fantastic Vol. 1 or the hyper-precise electro-funk chops of Amplified, but the New-Wave on a dying record player of “Nothing Like This” or the third-world rickety steam-machine of Ruff’s “Shouts”. “Twister (Huh What)” is a little bit of both; most of the track’s that ridiculous killer loop–made a little messy by all those voices and noises–but the beginning is a discordant mess: A variety style game show drumroll, an announcer saying “Would you please join me in welcome-in-ing…the Temp-tings” (or something like that) followed by an audience going ape, and then a live version of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life”. And then the song actually starts.

What’s the deal with that announcer? Did he stumble over his words? Was this a clip from some Temptations performance and Dilla cut a few syllables out? Dude’s certainly not introducing Stevie Wonder who we hear a few moments later.

In Dilla’s “last” interview for Scratch he said this:

“I used to listen to records and actually, I wouldn’t say look for mistakes but when I hear mistakes in records it was exciting for me. Like, “Damn, the drummer missed the beat in that shit. The guitar went off key for a second.” I try to do that in my music a little bit, try to have that live feel a little bit to it.”

Donuts is all about that “mistake” and an announcer stumbling over the word “welcoming” fits right in line with that. That or Jada’s laugh or even Ad-Rock’s sarcastic grousing, are all these weird off moments, where something accidental or too-real’s going on. Like an extra in crowd scene that’s staring at the camera or a little kid reading his letter to Santa Claus and stumbling over his own words. Or isolating that “Huh What?” from whatever song it’s from and making you think about every attitude-filled syllable.


What gets lost in the shuffle of all of the neo-soul/R&B/conscious rap sort of stuff Dilla got lauded for was when he pulls shit like this, a Stevie Wonder sample faking out into a hard as fuck breakbeat with what sounds like a kid jumping on a trampoline and constantly shouting about it and a high-pitched didgeridoo. Beats like this and “Geek Down” thankfully belay the boho, patchouli and dreads image that gets tagged onto a lot of people involved in the mellower sounds of 00’s black music, like Dilla.


Written by Brandon

February 16th, 2009 at 2:41 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Stepson of the Clapper"

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Donuts is not a drums record and it’s one of the reasons it’s so damned weird and can take so long to really get. Songs have drums, some of them have excellent drums–the way “Mash” and “Time” have like a mirror-image of the same pattern is brilliant–but there’s always something else grabbing for your ears. This is especially true on “Stepson of the Clapper” which despite being embroiled in hip-hop history (those killer Mountain drums and even Leslie West’s weird-voiced demand to “clap your hands” have ended-up on a ton of classic rap songs from any era and any coast), the drums kinda move into the background to make way for more not there but there snippets of vocals from that “clap your hands” part. This is another way that Dilla, on his way out, interacts with rap history and tweaks his own legacy, tossing in a brilliant, weird new take on a sample that’s been flipped to death.

Dilla also already freaked those drums on “Verbal Clap” off De La’s kinda slept-on The Grind Date and so, he circles around Leslie West’s downright adorable Long Island accent and turns it into something close to the squonking electronics you just heard on “Lightworks”. Once, he lets Leslie yell-out “On tempo” loud and clear and loops a longer snippet of crowd applause, but most of this is that Dilla thump and half-a-word “vocals” with the vocals taking over. It’s actually an ideal, ambient (in its own way) preface to “Twister (Huh What)” which begins with more live performance footage and an old showbiz drum roll–it’s like that Mountain thump come back in triple time–and is the first step back into weirdo soul half-loops that will be the norm until we’re back to horror-show sounds on “Geek Down”.

Written by Brandon

February 14th, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Unladylike. "Bartender"

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Beat’s real minimal and slinky with moments that max-out, vibrating and swarming around almost evil-like, especially on the hook where it’s like “Kernkraft 400″ on it’s ninth shot of Grey Goose, trying to build-up proper and explode but just sort of rumbling around like too much liquor sitting at the bottom of your stomach–reminds me of that recent Diplo/Blaqstarr joint more people should give a shit about.

Both Unladylike members have a good sense of fast-rapping that seems to be important for all females rappers to do–why, I don’t really know–and Gunna in particular, has a way of sneaking up on you moving from a Southern style drawl to rapid-fire raps, especially when she comes out of the first hook still rapping and into the second hook. Tee isn’t quite as nimble but she’s the secret star of the group–and gets extra points for her hilarious Chris Brown MySpace layout–injecting some warm ugly reality into this drank rap. More fun and self-effacing, she devotes her brief verse to the awful-feeling you get when liquor hits you all at once, touching on the not-so-smart decision that more drink’s the answer, and ends it with a hard-ass flirt/demand to meet her in the bathroom.

Written by Brandon

February 14th, 2009 at 4:45 am

Posted in Unladylike

Dilla Donuts Month: "Lightworks"

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Dilla is pretty quirky, which should be obvious from the donut theme, and that aspect lends itself to how Willy Wonka these tracks are. Something about slightly cheery yet disaffected singing plus the constant bubbling in the background of “Lightworks” and tic-tac bassline of “Factory” just gets to me. Probably the best appropriation of a commercial jingle since Busta Rhymes’ “Dangerous” in the former, with the latter seeming like Dilla went out to just make the weirdest sound thing he could’ve.



“Big Booty Express”, that unreleased Frank N’Dank album, “Over the Breaks” off The Shining all rush to mind when you listen to “Lightworks”. This is Dilla finding an outlet for some of the “ol’ Terminator shit”—as he said of “Big Booty Express”–because a lot of his fans and apparently, record labels too weren’t quite as keen on thudding Germanic scientist-in-a-lab funk as they were thumping grooves that could at least be passed-off as “Neo-Soul”.

What’s crazy though, is that he messed with a song from electronica pioneer Raymond Scott the same way he would the umpteenth dusty soul-side. Because Donuts is about connections and moving beyond the obvious and all that and so, he sees how the same musical brilliance found on a rambling pressure-cooker political jam like Kendricks’ “People Hold On” isn’t all that difference from Raymond Scott’s wandering electronics set to an over-enthusiastic chanteuse.


At one point last summer, I was on the subway headed home from some party, drunk and stoned out of my fucking mind, letting my dart across various beer ads, and yelling at this asshole male model dude sitting across from me, “you’re looking at me like the only people who study arabic wanna blow up buildings!“ as a decent number of people looked on. As I saw the people eyeing me suspiciously and tried to stay still and stare at the dumbfounded Derek Zoolander looking dude, I felt this kind of desperate paranoid unease, a feeling I’m reminded of whenever I listen to “Lightworks”.

“Lightworks” is pure freakout music. It starts out relatively calm, with a semi soothing and semi-really-fucking-creepy old school commercial jingle, but as soon as that singing starts to switch from ear to ear, those weid ass afro-electro drums show up and that first siren blasts, you know you’re in for a fucking trip. Those sirens in particular get me, for most of the album they’re these long slow connectors, bringing everything together, yet here they seem shorter and faster and coming from all different places at once, and finally that message of panic! panic! that’s implicit in every siren sound becomes super-explicit and bothersome as you hear these rapper’s voices yelling, about to start, only of course they never do, and that tension of waiting for a start that isn’t coming just builds, even as you’re constantly distracted by all these other sounds coming at you from various places in your headphones.

There’s also something really old school about the track, the way that voice and jingle make you feel like you’ve wandered into the Coney Island of a hundred years ago, and it’s at night and black and white and its the day they electrocuted the Elephant and you don’t know what they’re gonna use this crazy new electricity technology for next, but you can’t escape because there are too many people you have to push through to make it out, so you run wherever you can, lost and terrified. Or maybe it’s like stepping into the climax of The Lady From Shanghai, watching a wall of mirrors full of dudes with guns shooting at a wall of mirrors worth of old school blonde dames, never comfortable or knowing what’s real.

But it doesn’t even have the finality of that scene, it just builds and builds as the woman’s voice comes at you again, this time faster and chopped up, still bizzarrely confident in her belief in whatever this fascinating and horrible lightworks shit is, all while weird ass electric farts abound assault your ears, segments of sounds that should be longer but are unnaturally cut off or start in the middle and then all of a sudden there‘s this quick screeching high pitched descending arpeggio and it’s over.


Jordan’s blog is Suckapunk.


You know, Madlib and El-P have also used shit from Manhattan Research Inc.. The slowly-growing use of these records, especially from Dilla who by the time he got to Donuts knew people’d be looking for every record he flipped, seems like an attempt to construct some new or alternate history of hot breaks. Moving away from crate-digging, Manhattan Research Inc. came out for the first time in 2000. And although the music’s old and wonderfully bizarre, it certainly isn’t obscure. It can still be ordered or found with a $50 or so price-tag at any moderately cool record store. That he follows “Lightworks” with “Stepson of the Clapper” an exercise is screwing around with a tried and true break is telling.


It’s hard to believe it, now – much less believe that I’m reminiscing about it – but there was a time when I walked city streets to work, or, rather, rode a subway car part of the way from my apartment and walked the rest, rain, snow, or shine. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I could certainly afford to drive that distance, then, but the tunnel-to-sidewalk constitutional provided a modicum of fresh air, exercise, and an opportunity to take in the essense of the city as lived by the masses in a way that my day-trading desk job rarely allowed me. Day-trading. Day-trading! Say those words! Say ‘em. Whisper them back to me. I know the discipline seems foreign and exotic to your ears. Another generation or two and the profession will be forgotten altogether, a linguistic relic of a bygone age – an antique – when streetlamps illuminated corners at dusk, when streets bore capes of asphault, when everyday people worshipped little glowing screens they could fold up and slide into coat pockets. But that’s a digression – you and I, we were talking to, not from, and those I’d meet en route, though generally I didn’t meet many, because as passersby we were worker-drone arrows propelled at office-space targets. No-one spoke. Unwritten rule. But at the end, there, another edict slid down the psychic pike, again unwritten, and it read this way: what the fuck. And so it happened that on one fine autumn Tuesday in November 2010 I found myself ensnared in conversation with a trenchcoated gentleman who claimed to be in government service:

Me: “Good morning.”

Him: “Good morning.”

Me: “It’s tough to say that with a straight face anymore, isn’t it? Shit times.”

Him: “I know, right? For a long time, a very long time, until just recently, I refused to come to grips with the fact that everything is a hair’s breath from falling apart. My work was suffering, I was a jibbering wreck, friends stopped returning my calls, but last week something happened.”

Me: “Something happened?”

Him: “Something happened. Now, a few days prior, I’d finished reading Joseph Heller’s Something Happened for the first time.”

Me: “That’s some coincidence.”

Him: “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know about that.”

Me: “But the something, the something that happened to you, the shift-”

Him: “Yes, the shift. The shift in perspective. The lights.”

Me: “The lights?”

Him: “When my analyst and I discussed this last week, I referred to them as auras. You know, I see you out here on these streets every morning and evening, and it seems we share a route, more or less, but to be honest, I devote more of my attention to the sky than to the path I’m travelling, because the skies glow. It’s more pronounced at night.”

Me: “A glow?”

Him: “A glow, a heavenly glow. It’s – it’s like a combination of the Northern Lights and that scene from Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas where Thompson’s high and paisley shapes are moving on walls. It beckons me, and I know that’s a word that’s fallen from fashion, but that’s what the glow does. It’s so inviting. So warm.”

Me: “Maybe aliens are reaching out to you. And I’m not mocking what you’ve experienced, mind – just a bit of conjecture between total strangers – but if I were your analyst, I’d have prescribed you something right there on the spot.”

Him: “That actually happened, kind of. After I’d finished describing the things I’d seen, up there, and the all-encompassing sense of peace and tranquility, and how I sleep on my roof, and how I installed a video feed that allows me to watch the sky from my Blackberry pretty much all the time, when I’m not slaving in service of empire, he smiled broadly, and, was kind enough to allow me to grab a handful from the bag of psychedelic mushrooms he’s been gobbling down more-or-less nonstop since his 401K tanked back in the fall of 2008.”

Me: “I’m looking, man, I am. But it’s just a sky to me right now. Azure blue. Some cloud wisps, maybe a hint of smog.’

Him: “You can’t just look, friend, or stare. You have to… gaze.”

-Raymond Cummings

In Raymond Cummings’ view, the future’s so bright that we should all be wearing athletic cups. His blog is Voguing to Danzig.

Dilla chopped Raymond Scott’s “Lightworks” up so thoroughly that he got the female voice to say “light up the spliffs”. And just in case you thought you misheard, he makes her say it again. And then he throws in a Mantronix siren immediately after, like when Funk Flex drops a bomb on a particularly large NY rap record. This is Dilla making the MPC his playground, the pads are his monkey bars and other producers just can’t hang. He’s having fun, it’s Jordan on top of his game, Tiger in a red polo, Jay-Z when he can “feel the magic babyyy”.


Written by Brandon

February 13th, 2009 at 8:35 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Airworks"


“Airworks” begins perfectly, mid-swelling strings, but then it starts over and you even get to hear the needle hit, I guess “exposing” the sample but then, that’s not the part Dilla’s really interested in, it’s L.V Johnson’s quivers of voice, the exhalations that matter. In that sense, Dilla’s really working with air here, as he turns the moments between words, the times a voice, especially when it’s singing doesn’t have control over.

A few times the breathy vocals get interrupted by Raymond Scott’s bleeps and bloops, teasing you with the next track “Lightworks” but also making some weird “it’s all sound” connection between indistinct snippets of voice and snippets of electronics. Is that radar ping-esque sound that comes after the repeated “eaaahhhh….” from Raymond Scott or is it some moment of “I Don’t Really Care” given a ton of echo and sucked of its bass?


The thing that sticks out to me throughout Donuts, that I seriously thought was on some next-level shit, was the way he sampled vocals. It’s like he figured that the best part of any of these soul songs, maybe the most painstakingly emotive sometimes, isn’t anything remotely concrete like drums or a drum break or a melody or even a full phrase. It’s just like a grunt or sigh or breath or some warbling slice of some note held out. This isn’t more pronounced than on “Airworks”, the title itself kinda alluding to the not-thereness of the vocals. Then the ill thing is that Dilla takes these pieces and pretty much disregards any notion that you’re supposed to smooth out the chops. He just lets it all hang like “Fuckit, yeah its a sample bitch, and whut?!”



Starting with the however insanely proficient, not all that engaging loop of “Glazed”–it’s really that stew of voices that make the track—and up to “Twister (Huh, What)” I find this part of Donuts to be the least interesting. These tracks seem like weird producer exercises, almost a “how-to” blueprint. “Airworks” makes really clear the weird voice snippet trickery that dominates Donuts, “Lightworks” is weirdo sample fuckery, and “Stepson of the Clapper” is fun with a classic rap sample from Mountain.

These tracks are pure hip-hop head stuff and Donuts needs to do that because it does just about everything else. Yeah, the whole album’s for production nerds but “Airworks” and the next few tracks seem especially formal and technical.

But there’s one weird piece of dialogue or voice that cuts through the track–that “I don’t really care”. Dilla’s reaching into all these songs and vocals to express serious or casual emotions and that “I don’t really care” pushing through the track crystal-clear, un-manipulated, is a quick nod to Dilla—and everybody’s—plurality of emotions. It’s not some heavy statement on apathy or something, I don’t think it’s one of Donuts’ many grand messages/lessons, but it’s just one more idea or thought tossed out-there, making “Airworks” something more than a cool L.V Johnson song deconstruction.


Airwo…Airworks starts like that. It was almost like Dilla said, “Nah, lemme bring that back, I don’t think y’all ready for this one”, kinda like a much less obnoxious version of DJ Drama. Dilla chops the Hell into the beat. Making the vocals of L.V. Johnson sound other-worldly, like something other than a human singing. Through the course of the track you hear snippets of L.V., a word here and there that you can actually decipher, but it all sounds like a radio picking up another station during a song. It’s messy, and random, but it still sounds beautiful.


Written by Brandon

February 12th, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month

Dilla Donuts Month: "Glazed"

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As opposed to “Mash”, this feels like something that has to be rapped on. Some beats just do that, they have an energy or particular rhythm that demands that someone blacks out on it and try their damned hardest to fingerfuck the track, to quote Pharrell. The shit even has its own head section, the short drum into and melody line into just a killer horn n’bass riff that reiterates that you can’t fuck with a good horn stab. Isn’t that what the JB’s taught us?



“Glazed” is Donuts’ single in the sense that it’s incredible simple and direct–formulaic really. This loop is like Primo precise. He found and rearranged (and slowed down a tad) parts of “You Can’t Just Win” by Gene & Jerry—a song I’ve never heard before, the Jerry is Jerry Butler though—so that it’s a perfect loop. The ideal loop. There’s no messy half-a-sound or clipped-off instrument in the background, the horns, the bassline, the vibes, the drums, all rise and fall together every time in complete harmony.

Dilla though, disrupts the harmony in subtler, less A.D.D ways than on most of Donuts. Just as Dilla finally lets the horns on play out after looping them so tightly it spins your head around and you lose sense of time and space thinking maybe your CD’s just skipping, a mélange of whipping voices chirps, cackles, and mumbles bubbles under; a chunk of chaos in a beat that’s otherwise frustratingly precise. The loop keeps on going but now it’s got the sound of an angry but hopeful community meeting in a church basement or maybe somewhere more radical and underground rushing behind it, gaining fervor.

Tangles of voices fight for your ear, some of them saying the same thing in different words, some of them saying the exact same thing, until the clear, least wrong-headed, most idealistic voice bubbles to the surface: “Wake up world, give peace a chance!”. Behind it though, someone demands “Are you afraid?!” Some rambles invoking “reality” are in there too, they sound like they’re from the Sun Ra movie Space is the Place, they have his distinct, dead-pan bellow but I could be wrong.

It continues the album’s many strands. This time the one solidified with “People”, started on “Stop!” but echoing through other songs…this sense of end-of-days concern for the world and hardened hope that shit’ll all work out somehow. Funkadelic, Sun Ra, Last Poets, Gil Scot Heron, Eugene McDaniels, Sly, Arthur Lee…Dilla.

Like the guys above’s music, “Glazed” is also drug music, trip music, but less the feel-good vibes of psychedelia or even the mannered feel-bad vibes of most psychedelia, but this roving sense of escapism that sends you out into deep fears and deeper hopes and mixes it all up. The reason so many music nerds are also drug heads is because drugs do crazy shit to your hearing–being high or tripping is like hearing the whole world in $500 BOSE headphones–and shit you never realized not only becomes clear but clearer than the more obvious. When you’re uh, glazed, that killer loop fades into the background and those voices takeover almost entirely.

Written by Brandon

February 12th, 2009 at 1:00 am

Posted in Dilla, Donuts Month